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First Cup: Thursday

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: Everybody wants to blame DeMarcus Cousins for the Kings' mini-slump, of course. He's the biggest target, the most talented player, and since signing his maximum contract extension, he's on the cusp of becoming the wealthiest gentleman in the locker room. But that long-term security comes with a hefty price tag, the pressure to perform intensified by that additional four years and $62 million. Microscopes are all the rage. Television cameras and microphones are everywhere. Now, on occasion, this can work to his advantage. During Tuesday's loss to the visiting Atlanta Hawks, the replays exonerated Cousins of a flagrant foul and completely exposed Dennis Schroder's below-the-belt squeeze play that left the Kings' center writhing on the floor in pain. The refs – notwithstanding Game 6 in 2002 – are not the enemy. Cousins' reputation is the enemy, and the only way to earn the respect of the officials, his coaches and his teammates is to play to his strengths and maximize his potential. The Kings' 1-3 start is not all on Cousins. This starts with the learning curve of a hastily assembled organization, with the expectations of a playoff-starved community and, to some extent, with the ill-advised designation of Cousins as the team leader.

  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: Utah Jazz fans are witnessing history in the tanking. Months after management overhauled the roster, opting for youth development over bringing veteran players back to win now, the Jazz have stumbled to their worst start in four decades. ... Making it worse, this 2013-14 Jazz team has forever linked itself to the inaugural Jazz squad. For the first time since 1974, back when New Orleans had some Jazz and players named Pete Maravich, Rick Adelman and Bernie Fryer, this organization is off to an 0-5 start. “It’s just disappointing that we allowed this to slip away,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said.

  • A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com: There was no confetti pouring down from the rafters or "CONGRATULATIONS" banner anywhere in sight as Brad Stevens notched his first win as an NBA head coach following Boston's 97-87 victory over Utah. Stevens surely relished the victory ... for a few minutes at least. "You know," Stevens said following the victory, "I'm going to celebrate for a whole 12 minutes and then I'm going to start watching Orlando [Boston's next opponent] and trying to figure them out." That's vintage Stevens. Embrace and acknowledge the moment while seamlessly shifting his attention towards the future. It is how he handled success at Butler, and it's clear that won't change now that he's coaching the Celtics. Still, this victory was symbolic in more ways than Stevens notching his first victory as an NBA head coach. It was a much-needed reminder to his players that what Stevens is asking them to do, the sacrifices they have to make, can produce the only thing that truly matters when all is said and done - winning games.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Russell Westbrook is back. If there was any remaining doubt following his season debut Sunday, Westbrook removed all lingering reservations tonight. He played another 33 minutes, posted another 20-plus-point night and proved through another night of explosive and relentless attacks on the rim that his knee is fully healed. After the game, Westbrook was asked if there was anything about his knee that is making him hesitate in games. His answer: “Nah, nah, nah. If it was going to give me hesitation, I wouldn’t be playing.” Since he’s out there, Westbrook is bringing the same unbridled energy and passion he exhibited before. That’s what we witnessed tonight, and it was the most impressive aspect of Westbrook’s night. Almost single-handedly, Westbrook willed the Thunder to its best start of the season, a 33-31 lead after the opening quarter. He scored eight of the Thunder’s first 12 points then had a hand in 13 of the first 22.

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: Don’t look now, but the Pacers are the best team in the NBA. Not only are they 5-0, but they are playing championship-level basketball, the most recent example coming Wednesday night when the Pacers used a massive fourth quarter to knock off the Chicago Bulls 97-80 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Yes, it’s just five games into the season. Yes, it’s just early November, and nothing in the NBA gets settled in November. But the Pacers are sending a strong message to the rest of the league, and particularly the Heat and the Bulls: We’re serious contenders, not just for the Eastern Conference crown, but for the NBA title.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: At Wednesday's morning shootaround, Derrick Rose revealed the NBA informed the Bulls he no longer could wear the kinesio tape he had used for two games to support his sore neck. The league office confirmed this initially, saying players were prohibited from doing so. Hours later, league spokesman Tim Frank said the stance had changed. "After a discussion (Wednesday) with Jerry Stackhouse, representing the (players') union, we have decided to allow kinesio tape on an experimental basis so that we can take a fresh look at the possible benefits it might bring to our players." After all that, Rose didn't wear the tape, saying his neck "has been getting a lot better." But he can in the future. "Anything that makes him comfortable, I'm in favor of," deadpanned Thibodeau.

  • Frank Isola of the New York Daily News: The Knicks have posted a 1-3 record just weeks after the Daily News reported that Dolan told Woodson and his staff that he expects the Knicks to win a title this year. With Woodson’s top ally, Glen Grunwald, demoted from general manager to adviser before training camp, Woodson is quickly emerging as the fall guy if the Knicks don’t turn things around quickly. “I have been at this thing 30 years,” Woodson told ESPN Radio in New York on Wednesday. “And the one thing I never and will never do is look over my shoulder. I won’t do that. I got too much pride for that." ... According to a source, Woodson was taken aback by Dolan’s “win-now” edict and privately questioned why the roster didn’t include more veterans with championship DNA. Dolan, though, upset over the Knicks losing to Indiana in six games with Kidd underperforming and Wallace and Thomas out with foot injuries, was intent on bringing in younger players.

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Bucks rookie Nate Wolters has committed just four turnovers in the first four games and has 26 assists. The assist total is the most by a Bucks rookie in his first four games since T.J. Ford had 25 assists in the same stretch during the 2003-'04 season. "He's very poised," Mayo said of Wolters. "I think we all saw that from Day 1. I don't think we all thought he was going to be put in that hot seat that fast. But like I told him, 'Welcome to the NBA.' As long as you're ready, you don't have to get ready. We felt like he was always ready, as far as getting there early, practicing well. He's trying to constantly learn every day and it's helping him a lot during the games."

  • Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer: In one, brief bright spot, Cavs rookie Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 pick in the draft who started his pro career 0 for 15 from the field, finally made his first field goal -- a 3-pointer -- with 9:46 left in the second quarter. He wound up 1 for 5 overall, 1 for 3 from 3-point range and is now 1 for 20 overall, 1 for 11 behind the arc.

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: After mailing in an effort in a 30-point loss to the Magic, and blowing a 14-point lead Tuesday night at home against the Phoenix Suns, the Pelicans dominated the Grizzlies in all phases, a 16-0 fourth-quarter run by the Grizzlies notwithstanding. This was a Memphis team that reached the Western Conference finals a year ago, and a club expected to be in the playoff chase. The Pelicans have played three games this season really well, winning against the Bobcats and Wednesday night against the Grizzlies and losing to the Indiana Pacers, who are now 5-0. The question begs: which Pelicans team will show up Friday night against the Lakers?

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: “It seems like every time we get down we have a sense of urgency. We’re supposed to come out of the gate like that. If we’re not scoring then they shouldn’t be scoring if our defense is on point. I take the blame for that.” — Griz guard Tony Allen, addressing the issue of the team’s slow starts and sub-par defense.

  • Bob Young of The Arizona Republic: Look, it is still way too early to suggest that the Suns are even going to make a run at a playoff berth, especially in the loaded Western Conference. But they sure don’t look like one of the two worst teams in the league. Philadelphia, the only team with a worse over-under than the Suns at 16 1/2 games, also won three of its first four. What is clear is that the Suns are serious about competing this season, draft picks be damned.

  • Terry Foster of The Detroit News: This is Andre Drummond’s second season with the Pistons and he has a new style of basketball — it’s called “bust their head open.” It doesn’t mean being violent or malicious. But he is a happy-go-lucky guy off the court, and he can’t be that way on the court. He has been told he needs a tougher attitude. Drummond is a nice guy who is learning to grit his teeth and fight for what belongs to him. “My intention is not to knock somebody down,” Drummond said. “If somebody falls, they fall. I’m going for the blocked shot and not to hurt anybody.”